The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Jason Smith —a San Bruno native, Riordan graduate and assistant track coach at College of San Mateo — will compete in the long jump at the US Olympic trials in Oregon next week. Photo courtesy of Jason Smith.

Jason Smith —a San Bruno native, Riordan graduate and assistant track coach at College of San Mateo — will compete in the long jump at the US Olympic trials in Oregon next week. Photo courtesy of Jason Smith.

Jason Smith was late to the track and field game.

“I never considered track an option until my junior year (of high school). … I was a baseball-basketball guy,” said Smith, 25 years old and a 2016 graduate of Riordan High School in San Francisco. “I played basketball all four year, but gave up baseball that third year. Mom told me I had to do something in the spring.”

Smith is certainly making up for lost time. An assistant coach for the College of San Mateo track and field team, Smith will participate in the long jump at the United States Olympic trials at Hayward Field on the campus of University of Oregon June 21-30.

Smith punched his ticket to Eugene after uncorking a leap of 8.13 meters (26 feet, 8 1/4 inches) at a meet in Chula Vista June 2, the longest legal jump — not wind-aided — in the country until Texas A&M University’s TC Stevenson eclipsed him June 5 with a jump of 8.33 (27-4) at the NCAA outdoor championships.

The jumpers with the top-24 marks this year earn an invitation to the Olympic trials. The top three advance to the Paris Olympics in July.

“We’re off to do some work and hurt some peoples’ feelings,” Said Smith, a San Bruno native. “The US (track and field association) has their guys who they expect to be there. We’re having fun being the underdogs. We’ve been flying under the radar.”

Smith, along with CSM head track coach Kajari Burns — who was also Smith’s coach at Riordan and has been working with Smith since he graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a master’s degree in sports management. Smith said the position at CSM not only puts some money in his pockets, but it enables him to train — both with the Bulldogs and on his own.

“I was always hopeful he would come back home after graduating. … I told him I’d love to train him,” said Burns, who recently wrapped up his sixth season as head track coach for CSM.

“Our lives have been entertwined for many years. It’s a close bond where we trust each other. It works.”

Smith’s jump is the 27th best in the world this year and fifth-best in the nation. More importantly, he accomplished it just ahead of the trials, meaning he should be nearing his peak form. Other than Stevenson’s jump, the other top American marks all came back in February.

“It’s huge for not just the confidence, but to reaffirm that what we’re doing works,” Smith said. “We went into that (June 2) meet, treating it like a tuneup. We knew that would be my last regular-season competition.”

This will be Smith’s second appearance at the US Olympic trials, also qualifying in 2021. Still attending Long Beach at the time, Smith admitted partly just happy to be there, although he didn’t give himself the best opportunity as he was struggling with a back injury.

“I really wasn’t jumping super well that year because we got off to a late start (as the world re-emerged from the COVID pandemic lockdown). … It wasn’t until May that I started to hit my stride,” Smith said. “But my body wasn’t really at 100%, the effects of coming late into a season and sustained a back injury I couldn’t shake.

“This year is a completely different story. I’ve been jumping well.”

A late bloomer

Smith has certainly come a long way in a short amount of time. He said Burns had been hounding him during his freshman and sophomore years to join the track team at Riordan before he finally joined his junior year.

“I remember seeing him around campus. I was the jumps coach and I saw this kid who looked like me — tall, long and lanky. He looked fairly athletic,” Burns said. “When I got a chance to see him move … he was explosive. From the moment he got out there, he was good.”

Smith ended up finishing second at the Central Coast Section championships in 2015 to advance to the CIF State Track and Field Championships.

“I didn’t perform there very well,” Smith said. “My coach and I had a real deep conversation (after), ‘If you give this thing your all, we might get you off to college.’”

Smith took the advice to heart and came back for senior season and put himself on the college recruiting map when he launched a career-best jump of 24-8 at a meet in April.

“I remember my coach going crazy. I didn’t realize the magnitude,” Smith said.

Said Burns: “I knew that was going to be one the top jumps in the state. I remember thinking, ‘This kid just won himself a full-ride scholarship (to college).’”

Smith found out that a 24-foot jump by a high school jumper would make college coaches salivate. That he had less than two years of training under his belt made him even more attractive.

“A lot of [college coaches] like to see that potential. That this kid is just barely scratching the surface,” Smith said. “Twenty-four (feet) is the mark that definitely jumps out to the eye of a coach.”

Smith went on to win the CCS long jump title in 2016 with a jump of 23-3/4 and finished fourth at the state meet.

Upward trajectory continues

He eventually accepted a track scholarship to Long Beach and continued to get better. In 2021, in addition to qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Smith was the Big West Conference champion in the long jump, high jump and triple jump. By the time he graduated, he held both of school’s indoor (25-10 1/4) and outdoor (26-1 3/4) long jump records, was top-10 in school history in the high jump, was a two-time Big West Male Field Athlete of the Year and was a two-time qualifier for the NCAA championships.

“I told myself when I got there (to Long Beach) I will get better every year. I felt I was so new to the sport my margin for improvement was pretty big,” Smith said. “I had everything I needed [at Long Beach] to be great.”

And he continued to put up marks. In February, he went over the 8-meter mark, jumping 8.03 (26-4 1/4) at the USATF Indoor Track Championships. Two months later, he finished third with a 25-8 1/4 in the Elite Long Jump competition at the Mt. SAC Relays.

Now his entire focus is on Eugene, Oregon.

“I think he’s fully capable of making the (Olympic) team. We’ve done the work to prepare to get the big jumps needed to be in that top-3 consideration,” Burns said. “We feel confident. We’re the No. 2 or 3 outdoor jumper (in the nation). We feel like [Smith’s] best jumps are ahead of him.

“We don’t feel like this is the peak right now. We’re knocking on the door really hard and we might just break through.”